Nick Buoniconti, Hall of Fame Linebacker and 'Inside the NFL' Co-Host, Dies at 78

Nick Buoniconti OBIT - Getty - H 2019

The Miami Dolphins legend teamed with Len Dawson to host the HBO program for more than two decades.

Nick Buoniconti, an undersized overachiever who helped lead the Miami Dolphins to the NFL's only perfect season before spending 23 years on the HBO program Inside the NFL, has died. He was 78.

The Pro Football Hall of Fame middle linebacker died Tuesday in Bridgehampton, New York, said Bruce Bobbins, a spokesman for the family. He battled CTE, the irreversible degenerative disease caused by repetitive brain trauma, in his final years.

Buoniconti was bypassed in the NFL Draft but went on to a 15-year career. He helped the Dolphins win back-to-back Super Bowls, including the 1972 team that finished 17-0.

Following retirement, Buoniconti and his son, Marc, worked to raise more than a half-billion dollars in the search for a cure for paralysis. The younger Buoniconti was paralyzed from the shoulders down making a tackle for The Citadel in 1985.

Marc Buoniconti said his father was his biggest hero.

"He could have been sitting on the beach sipping champagne for the rest of his life," the younger Buoniconti said in 2017. "But what did he do? He went around and gave the rest of his life to help his son."

Nick Buoniconti was chosen for the all-time AFL team in 1970. He was chosen for the NFL Pro Bowl in 1972 and 1973.

In addition to his gig hosting Inside the NFL with former Kansas City Chiefs quarterback Len Dawson — they were first paired in 1980 — Buoniconti worked as an attorney, as president of U.S. Tobacco and as an agent to such athletes as Bucky Dent and Andre Dawson after his playing days were done.

He was the subject of an heartbreaking HBO documentary, The Many Lives of Nick Buoniconti, that premiered in February.

"Nick Buoniconti lived an extraordinary life," HBO Sports executive producer Rick Bernstein said in a statement. "He accomplished virtually everything he set his sights on in life. He was a trailblazer.

"Pairing him with Len Dawson on Inside the NFL for 23 years is an unforgettable part of football television history. And then having the blessing of Nick and his wife, Lynn, to chronicle his lifelong journey and produce a documentary earlier this year is an important part of our heritage at HBO Sports. It was vintage Nick Buoniconti: honest, raw and to the point."

A native of Springfield, Massachusetts, Buoniconti played guard on offense and linebacker on defense for Notre Dame. But at 5 feet 11 inches and 220 pounds, he was small for an NFL linebacker.

He was taken in the 13th round by the Boston Patriots of the upstart AFL and played for them from 1962-68. He made the AFL All-Star Game six times and had 24 career interceptions for the Patriots, including three in a single game in 1968.

Buoniconti played for the Dolphins from 1969-74 and in 1976. He was the leader of Miami's famed "No-Name Defense" and in 1973 set a team record with 162 tackles. He was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 2001.

In 1985, he and Marc Buoniconti helped to found the Miami Project to Cure Paralysis, which has become the world's largest spinal cord injury research center.